The Old Testament reading from the prophet Micah perfectly balances the story of the Prodigal Son, which forms the Gospel reading. Here is part of the prophecy from Micah: ‘Who is a God like thee, pardoning iniquity and passing over transgression for the remnant of his inheritance? He does not retain his anger for ever because he delights in steadfast love. He will again have compassion upon us, he will tread our iniquities under foot. Thou wilt cast all our sins into the depths of the sea’.
The terms ‘steadfast love’, and ‘compassion’, relate back to two specific Hebrew words, which St John Paul II described so well in his encyclical ‘Dives in Misericordia: ‘In describing mercy, the books of the Old Testament use two expressions in particular, each having a different semantic nuance. First there is the term hesed, which indicates a profound attitude of “goodness.” When this is established between two individuals, they do not just wish each other well; they are also faithful to each other by virtue of an interior commitment, and therefore also by virtue of a faithfulness to themselves. Since hesed also means “grace” or “love,” this occurs precisely on the basis of this fidelity. … The second word which in the terminology of the Old Testament serves to define mercy is rahamim. This has a different nuance from that of hesed. While hesed highlights the marks of fidelity to self and of “responsibility for one’s own love” (which are in a certain sense masculine characteristics), rahamim, in its very root, denotes the love of a mother (rehem = mother’s womb). From the deep and original bond – indeed the unity – that links a mother to her child there springs a particular relationship to the child, a particular love. Of this love one can say that it is completely gratuitous, not merited, and that in this aspect it constitutes an interior necessity: an exigency of the heart. It is, as it were, a “feminine” variation of the masculine fidelity to self expressed by hesed. Against this psychological background, rahamim generates a whole range of feelings, including goodness and tenderness, patience and understanding, that is, readiness to forgive. The Old Testament attributes to the Lord precisely these characteristics when it uses the term rahamim in speaking of Him’.
May we know in our own person these two immense qualities of the love of God, and be blessed in them particularly today. May God be very close to you.